Commodores look to slow down Rebels’ three-head rushing attack

Ole Miss has a talented running back group, arguably the best group Vanderbilt has faced so far this year

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Commodores look to slow down Rebels’ three-head rushing attack

Vanderbilt defeats Northern Illinois 24-18 on September 28, 2019. Photo by Mattigan Kelly

Vanderbilt defeats Northern Illinois 24-18 on September 28, 2019. Photo by Mattigan Kelly

Vanderbilt defeats Northern Illinois 24-18 on September 28, 2019. Photo by Mattigan Kelly

Vanderbilt defeats Northern Illinois 24-18 on September 28, 2019. Photo by Mattigan Kelly

Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

The “Big Three” of running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney has been the center of discussion surrounding this Vanderbilt football team. However, Ole Miss has a “Big Three” of its own.

The difference: Ole Miss’s Big Three all just happen to play the same position: running back.

The three-headed monster of senior running back Scottie Phillips and true freshman running backs Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner are the lifeblood of this Ole Miss offense. Their usage is only expected to increase with starting quarterback Matt Corral out due to a rib injury he suffered at the end of the Rebels’ game against the California Golden Bears. True freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is expected to make his second career start against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

While Plumlee performed about as well as anyone could have expected in his first start against Alabama last week, he still ran the ball 25 times to complement the stable of running backs that accompany him.

As Plumlee adjust to the starting role, Philips, Ealy, and Conner can continue to rotate to give Plumlee a constant supply of fresh legs at running back. Phillips is the primary starter, and he usually gets the majority of the workload. He has 92 carries for 389 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Ealy is the talented, two-sport star who is speedier than Phillips. He and Plumlee both play on the Ole Miss baseball team as well. Ealy led the running back trio with 11 carries for 68 yards against Alabama. He averages 6.2 yards per carry, which leads the team.

Conner is the biggest back of the three at 5’10” and 215 pounds. He can drive piles and push his way through tackles for extra yards.

Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez runs an option offense, so the trio of running backs gets plenty of looks against opponents, and if those running backs are covered, Plumlee can run the ball himself to pick up yardage.

The key to Vanderbilt pulling off an upset against Ole Miss will be whether or not its front seven can stop the running backs and a mobile quarterback in Plumlee. Vanderbilt allows more explosive plays than any other team in the FBS, with the defense allowing 34 plays that went for at least 20 yards. Ealy is fast enough to turn a small hole created by his offensive line into a 30-yard gain. Phillips has the experience to see gaps in the defense, and Conner can bully his way through a defensive line.

Limiting explosive runs out of the option will likely be Vanderbilt’s top priority on Saturday. The Commodores’ run defense allows 160.8 yards per game, and allowing explosive running plays to the Rebels means Ole Miss can easily surpass that 160-yard figure.

Linebacker Kenny Hebert leads the Commodores with four tackles for loss this year, and defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo and linebacker Elijah McAllister have three tackles for loss each. Those guys will be the ones trying to limit big gains from the option.

In other words, stopping the “Running Rebs” will be the key matchup to watch heading into this weekend.

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